Henson: Robocall was meant to stimulate votes

A consultant for Republican former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign testified Monday that he wrote an Election Day robocall message telling voters to “relax,” but said it was actually a counterintuitive effort to motivate voters in the final hours of the election.

At his trial on election fraud charges, Julius Henson testified that campaign manager Paul Schurick called him on his cell phone late on Election Day as he took his granddaughter to McDonald’s and they discussed reports that turnout was low. Henson said he advised Schurick that a robocall was the only thing the campaign could do at that point to bring in more votes and Schurick asked him to write up a call.

As he drafted the text of the call on a napkin, Henson focused on the fact that Ehrlich was a Republican challenging sitting Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in a heavily Democratic state, he testified.

“In my mind I wrote the call to stimulate voting activity between 6 and 8 p.m.,” he said. “At that late hour I wanted to write something that was counterintuitive.”

Schurick agreed to the language, Henson said. But when Henson said the call would need an authority tag noting that Ehrlich’s campaign was paying for the call, Henson testified that Schurick said it didn’t. Henson said that was the campaign’s decision, not his.

Henson, who is black, has testified that he was hired to help the campaign court black voters, but he is accused of trying to suppress black voter turnout with the call. Henson is charged with using the automated calls to influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision to go to the polls through the use of fraud and publishing campaign material without an authority line. He is also charged with conspiring with Schurick to do the same.

The robocalls went out on the evening of Election Day to about 110,000 voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County — two jurisdictions with high percentages of black voters.

“Hello. I’m calling to let everybody know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful,” the voice on the call played for the jury says. “Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re OK. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you.”

In a separate trial last year, Schurick used the same argument that the call’s message was a counterintuitive attempt to mobilize crossover Democrats. He was convicted on the same four counts Henson faces. Schurick testified in his trial that he didn’t know the authority line would be left off.

Prosecutors have alleged that the robocall was an attempt to discourage black voters from going to the polls through fraud that had its roots in a Henson’s proposal to the campaign he dubbed the “Schurick Doctrine.”

Henson testified Monday that he drafted the proposal for identifying and getting African-American voters to vote for Ehrlich based on conversations with Schurick. But he said the campaign rejected the proposal at a meeting months before the election because it was too expensive and it was never mentioned again.

“It was dead on arrival on 7-27 of 2010 and that was the end of it,” Henson said.